WASHINGTON -- Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation to slap new human rights sanctions on Iran's leaders. But Lieberman's concerns about human rights abuses are apparently limited to foreign shores, since he has defended the use of torture when Americans engage in it. And he's even cracked jokes about it.
"This legislation would authorize the president to deny visas and freeze economic assets of people in Iran who are responsible for the kind of brutality that we're seeing," Lieberman said in an appearance on MSNBC Thursday.
He called the Iranian regime "fanatical" and said "it's time to start targeting the Iranian human rights abusers."
The independent from Connecticut has defended the use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning. "We ought to be able to use something like waterboarding," he told Fox News' Greta van Susteren less than a year ago, adding it could be necessary to prevent "an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, god forbid, worse."
While lawmakers are divided as to its constitutionality, intelligence and counterterrorism experts largely agree it's a clear-cut example of torture, which is illegal under US law. The international human rights group Amnesty International denounces torture as "immoral," "cruel" and "inhuman," while the organization Human Rights Education Associates says "[t]orture is a serious violation of human rights and is strictly prohibited by international law."
Lieberman explained his stance by claiming waterboarding leaves no "permanent damage," as Raw Story reported in 2008. "It is not like putting burning coals on people's bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological," Lieberman said.
David Dayden of the liberal Web site FireDogLake noted that Lieberman and McCain's bill "would sanction human rights abusers in Iran" but "not those in America who abused human rights through torture or rendition."
One year ago, Lieberman joked about waterboarding while speaking during a black-tie dinner at the Washington Alfafa Club. Referring to former vice president Dick Cheney's back, he said, "'Apparently, he hurt it moving some things out of his office. Personally, I had no idea that waterboards were so heavy," according to Politico.
He made a similar joke at this year's Alfafa Club dinner less than two weeks ago, suggesting changing the name of Guantanamo Bay to the "Richard B. Cheney Resort and Rehabilitation Spa" would help keep it open, MSNBC recounts. "I bet the water sports will be really great," he added.
Lieberman also opposed the investigation and ostensible prosecution of Bush administration officials who crafted legal arguments in favor of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. He blasted Obama's release of the Bush torture memos last year, alleging it "helps our enemies."
The leading civil rights group ACLU recently slammed Lieberman for suggesting Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab be treated as a prisoner of war and stripped of any rights to due process or a federal trial, as Raw Story reported. The group, which has given him a lifetime civil liberties score of 54 percent, suggested he and others want to "discard the Constitution" when it's inconvenient.
Politico reports that the bill is being co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (IN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Robert Casey (PA) and Ted Kaufman (DE), along with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Susan Collins (ME), Sam Brownback (KS) and Jon Kyl (AZ).
Its co-author McCain, who was himself tortured in 1967 at the hands of the North Vietnamese, has opposed waterboarding, calling it "a horrible torture technique" in 2007.
But McCain voted against a Democratic bill in 2008 banning it and supported President Bush's ensuing veto after Congress approved it. While maintaining his clear denunciation of waterboarding, the Arizona senator claimed it would stifle other important forms of intelligence gathering.
McCain said last year on CBS News the Obama administration's desire to prosecute former Bush officials complicit in torture was less about honoring the law than an attempt to "settle old political scores."
Iran held a highly controversial presidential election last year wherein the incumbent forces used lethal force to clamp down on protests, killing numerous citizens. While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintained power, the legitimacy of his election is widely questioned.
Agence France-Presse reports that on Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, the nation's police officers are again brutally assaulting protesters, using tear gas and batons to stifle dissent.
McCain said Thursday this bill sanctions Iran for its use of "violence and oppression" to "crush the peaceful aspirations of Iran's citizens."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday hailed Iran as a "nuclear" nation. On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department moved to place sanctions on Iran's Revolutionary Guard, The Hill reported.